‘Stop collisions at sea’

V Sajeev Kumar | Updated on May 16, 2021

Safety first: Most fishing boats do not carry something as fundamental as life jackets on board   -  THE HINDU

Adoption of basic measures can save lives

Recent collisions between ship and fishing boats off the Indian coast have triggered demands for the adoption of safety norms for fishermen at sea.

Because of the abundance of fish in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal compared with other parts of the world, around 40,000 fishing boats operate in the region. On top of that, 500-1,000 merchant ships daily traverse the area located on the international sea route.

Charles George, president of the All India Deep Sea Fishers Association, said the norms and protocols framed by the International Maritime Organisation should be enforced strictly for ships plying on Indian waters to stop collisions at sea.

Though India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, it has neither framed a policy nor made a law for its exclusive economic zone to protect the rights of fishermen, George claimed.

The association's demand comes in the wake of the collision of a fishing boat named ‘Mercedes’ with a cargo ship about 600 miles off the coast of Goa in early April.

This is the tenth incident of collision on the Indian coast in nine years.

However, shipping experts said changes in the size of merchant ships had made visibility of passing fishing boats difficult, particularly considering the fact that crews on modern ships consist of fewer people than before.

Technologies such as automated radar systems on ships help detect fishing boats made of steel. But the problem is that many of the boats operating in the region are constructed from wood.

The absence of an Automatic Identification System — which transmits a ship’s position to prevent collisions — on many boats has also hindered a thorough probe into the cause of the incident.

There is also concern over the deployment of unskilled migrant workers as crew manning fishing boats. Earlier, boats were helmed by fishermen who had a good knowledge of the sea as well as the craft, a shipping industry source said.

Most fishing boats do not carry something as fundamental as life jackets on board; further most crew members are not aware of how these are to be worn. “The saddest part is that providing basic training, life jackets, rescue floats and a radar reflector will cost less than ₹10,000 per boat and can easily be provided by the Government, NGOs or other organisations,” the source said.

This would be the simplest step to take to ensure that even in the event of a collision, lives will not be lost. “Once that is achieved, we can try and avoid collisions by imparting training and installation of sophisticated navigational and safety equipment on fishing vessels,” the source said.

Published on May 16, 2021

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